For many RAAus members and GA pilots, we fly for fun. However, despite not neccessarily being commercial pilots, we all have a responsibility to ensure we continue to operate professionally for the continued safety of ourselves, our passengers, other airspace users, and those on the ground. 

Aviation can be very unforgiving, however, by reviewing experiences from others we are able to learn ways in which we can improve safety moving forward. Through improvements in technology, systems and training we continue to improve aviation safety into the future. 

Let's take a look at some close calls!

Recently, you may have seen a video circling on social media involving a near miss between two aircraft on final approach. Whilst it is not appropriate to speculate as to what exactly went wrong in this instance without understanding circuit direction, local procedures, or details specific to this flight, it appears from the video that the two aircraft were not established on final at 500ft, as is consistent with standard circuit procedures. Whilst standard procedures do not always prevent an occurrence such as this from occurring, it does decrease the likelihood when combined with a good visual scan and radio procedures.

Let's take a look at the video:

(Video source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpgKsc3ocCE)

Near miss events are amongst the most common occurrence types reported to RAAus with most occurring within the circuit area, particularly at busy locations. Pilots should pay particularly close attention to ensuring they maintain standard circuit procedures, thorough radio calls and keep their eyes outside the cockpit when operating in the circuit, avoiding distractions such as electronic devices.

In 2020, RAAus received 14 occurrence reports relating to near miss or loss of separation. Most of these occurred at busy locations within the circuit. Despite the reporting requirements, it is likely that many near miss events go unreported.

The map below shows a plot of near miss occurrences reported over the past 3 years (many pins are unable to be viewed due to higher numbers at high density locations). As you can see, busy locations such as the surrounds of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane have a higher rate of reported near miss events. 

 Reporting of occurrence reports allows RAAus to monitor trends and data. RAAus has been able to work with local airport safety committees as well as local operators and flight training schools to address local hazards, including near miss events.


Occurrence reported to RAAus

Earlier in 2021, RAAus received an occurrence report relating to a near miss during a dual training flight within the circuit of a busy aerodrome. 

An instructor was conducting circuits with a student and was positioned number two behind another aircraft in the circuit. The number 1 aircraft was conducting a very wide circuit, and as such, the instructor communicated to the other aircraft requesting permission to pass on their inside to become number 1 in the circuit. After passing the other aircraft and established on final approach, another aircraft in the circuit alerted the instructor that there were two aircraft in close proximity on final approach. The instructor conducted a visual scan followed by a go-around, after which time they visually identified another aircraft also established on final. 

Both aircraft had been established on final approach, one above the other with the potential for a mid-air collision. 

Upon review of the occurrence it was reported that the second aircraft on final had not made any radio calls prior to joining. It is also likely that the instructor and student were focused on the location of the known traffic in the circuit and did not visually identify the other aircraft prior to turning onto final. 

This occurrence highlights a number of important considerations:

  1.  Pilots should ensure they conduct regular radio calls when operating within the circuit. It is unknown whether the second aircraft on final was not using the radio or whether it was not on the correct frequency, volume or whether they had encountered a radio failure. Pilots should, however, not rely on radio communications as aircraft may be operating without a radio or not operating on the correct frequency. Extra care should be taken when operating within the vicinity of airfields where radio use is not mandatory.
  2. All pilots must ensure they maintain an thorough visual scan for other traffic when operating within the circuit. This occurrence may have been avoided if either pilot visually identified the other prior to being established on final approach. Pilots should scan with the expectation of identifying traffic that they are not aware of who may be within the vicinity. 
  3. Standard circuit procedures are essential in maintaining safe operations. Pilots must ensure they maintain appropriate separation from other aircraft in the circuit and avoid non-standard procedures such as overtaking where possible. Pilots should join overhead where suitable in order to identify other aircraft established within the circuit. Standard circuit procedures such as maintaining 1000ft AGL downwind and being established on final by 500ft ensure aircraft are located where other traffic expect aircraft to be, increasing the likelihood of visually identifying traffic. Differing circuit heights and non-standard procedures increase the liklihood of a near miss occurrence.

Addressing any one of the above points may have resulted in avoidance of this occurrence. Whilst this occurrence did not result in a collision, a number of fatal accidents have occurred in Australia in similar conditions. 

For more information on safety in the circuit, a webinar will be held on this topic on Saturday 30th October. 

Your Stories - Close Calls

During National Safety Month 2020, we asked members to tell us of a time when something went wrong. Unsurprisingly, a number of the occurrences related to operations in the circuit. Here are a few member stories reported to RAAus.

  • Member Story 1 - Opposite Direction Traffic

    "I was on a solo flight and I had been out in the training area practising forced landings. I came back into the circuit to do a few touch and go's.

    It was quiet day however I still made all my radio calls and the only other plane that was around was the skydive plane which I knew had landed prior to joining the circuit.

    On my second circuit, I made my turning base call and as I levelled out, I looked down at the runway and saw a plane taking off in the opposite direction coming towards me. I hadn't heard any radio calls and conducted an orbit to stay clear of the other plane.

    I hopped on the radio and tried to contact the other pilot, but he/she didn't respond. I waited until the plane was clear and carried on.

    This experience made me really understand the importance of constantly keeping a visual lookout because what you hear on the radio might not be the same as what you see."

  • Member Story 2 - Glider 12 O'Clock

    "Transiting near a gliding operation airport, enroute when practicing navigation exercise for my Private Pilot's Licence.

    As i was reading the map to determine position, i noticed a glider coming toward me at the same altitude at 12 o clock, it required immediate deviation to the right.The glider did the same thing, to avoid conflict.

    I now am very cautious, vigilant in maintaining an effective lookout where ever possible, and avoiding unnecessary head down, inside the cockpit when VFR flying"

  • Member Story 3 - Caution Large Air Tanker

    "I was very early in my RAAUS initial flying training, conducting circuit training on a CAVOK day.

    We were on the crosswind leg, about to turn downwind when I looked to my left and saw an MD87 Large Air Tanker at the same altitude as us, moving directly towards our position. We undertook a quick turn to the left and avoided any further chance of a collision.

    The Large Air Tanker had just entered South Australia, and was tracking back from a fire on Kangaroo Island. He returned via a different track to the one he departed on, and flew directly into the circuit (against the direction of traffic) of the airport we were flying from.

    He was very close to circuit height and was not on the CTAF frequency. It's possible that the crew were not aware of the small (although busy) airfield. It was fortunate that I had an instructor on board, who took control quickly and moved us out of the way of the larger aircraft.

    My take away lesson from this incident was to always make a good look around when turning - particularly in the circuit and never assume that all aircraft in the area will be on the CTAF frequency."

(Video Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9njdYkhZUFc)


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